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NBA PM: Lee Enjoying Move to Bench

Most players who lose a starting job are angry about the change in role, but the Golden State Warriors’ David Lee is perfectly content… Could Brian Shaw be a candidate for Orlando’s potential coaching vacancy?

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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David Lee Accepting New Role

When David Lee started the season injured, most people assumed that Draymond Green would hold down the fort just well enough to keep the Warriors afloat until Lee, the incumbent starter, was able to make his way back into the starting lineup.

No one could have known that the Golden State Warriors would be as good as they were with Lee on the sidelines, and nobody could have foreseen the leap that Green was set to make. Still, that’s what happened, and it meant Lee returning to a reserve role when he finally got healthy just before Christmas, not the starting power forward slot he might have once considered exclusively his.

Lee, however, admits that winning so many games has made the transition to a reserve role surprisingly easy.

“It’s not frustrating at all. It’s just a role change,” Lee said. “If we were losing a bunch of games I probably would be saying to Coach (Steve Kerr), ‘Hey maybe we should try something different.’ But the way we are playing as a group and the way Draymond (Green) is specifically playing, this is the way it’s supposed to be right now.”

Green is actually the singular reason that Lee isn’t a starter anymore, but it’s hard to be upset about a guy having the year of his life.

“I’m happy for him,” Lee said. “He’s done unbelievable, and I think he’s fit in perfectly to what we’ve been trying to do. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Saying things like that is logical now, but Lee swears his adjustment to the bench was always a really easy one.

“Coach had a talk with me that things are going so well and [Green] is doing so well that he wants me to come off the bench, and I have absolutely no problem with that,” Lee said. “It’s about winning. That’s the name of the game, so everybody that’s on this team, whether it’s me or Andre (Iguadola) or (Andrew) Bogut or any of these guys, everybody is making sacrifices. That’s what happens on championship-level teams.”

From the sidelines, Lee was able to watch his teammates get out to a franchise-best start, and he thinks that perspective allowed him to slip back into the Warriors lineup without disrupting the on-court chemistry and overall success previously established by the team.

“Man I was happy,” he said. “Happy they were winning and not losing, that’s for sure. I wanted to be back right away, but it was great to see them win and I think we’ve continued those ways since I’ve been back.”

That return has required Lee to make adjustments to his game, however. Coming off the bench is a different experience than starting, especially for a guy who has spent the overwhelming majority of his career as a starter.

“I have to play some 4 and some 5 now,” he explained. “A lot of the stuff we run and things are interchangeable, so really Coach just plays a lot of it on matchups… A lot of the stuff we do is we have two superstar-level players on our team and Coach really does his best to fill in the guys around them to make us most effective. That is what we’ve done and it’s been great, so I’m not worried about any of the ego stuff or personal stuff. It’s been amazing to be a part of this.”

For his part, Lee credits Kerr not only for figuring out how to use both Lee and Green, but also for the team’s massive success this year.

“Coach has come in and simplified a lot of things for us,” Lee said. “He’s done an unbelievable job of keeping things loose around here, but at the same time having discipline to do the things we need to accomplish day-in and day-out to continue to get better as a team.

“I give coach a lot of credit for what is going on,” he added. “With me personally he’s been communicating very openly about exactly what he needs from me in the new role that I’m playing, and I’ve told him from the start that it’s about the team. That’s what keeps us coming out playing hard for this guy.”

If all this sounds too utopian to come from the mouth of a guy who lost his starting job this season, think again. It really is that positive in the Golden State locker room right now.

“Our guys get along so well, and that’s why nobody is concerned about their role, only about winning. It’s because we’re all pulling for one another.”

Amazingly, Lee doesn’t care that Green is the unquestioned starter this year. He’s just happy to be playing for the best team in the NBA. If they ultimately win an NBA championship, his easy-going sacrifice will have proven all the more worth it.

Brian Shaw Could Return to Orlando?

All one has to do is look at Kenneth Faried’s improving stat lines since Brian Shaw was fired from his head coaching duties in Denver to know that it was time for that organization to move on from a skipper who just wasn’t living up to what many thought he would be when he was hired back in 2013.

None of this is to say that Shaw can’t be a capable head coach again, however. It’s easy to forget, but as an assistant in Los Angeles and Indiana he was very often touted as an assistant coach more than ready for an opportunity to serve as head coach of a team somewhere. Oddly, Shaw didn’t get a lot of opportunities for two summers in a row, eventually settling on a job in Denver that had him follow George Karl, a man who had just won NBA Coach of the Year.

Those are admittedly rather large shoes to fill, and something about the mesh with that organization just didn’t work out. It happens a lot in the NBA where a guy just wears out his welcome.

That doesn’t mean his goose is cooked as a head coach, though. If Vinny Del Negro could get a second shot at a head coaching gig, Shaw almost certainly can, as well, and according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, the Orlando Magic are one team that could consider taking him on.

More specifically, the report suggests that Shaw is interested in Orlando more than the other way around, but it is an interesting proposition considering Shaw played professionally in Orlando during the 1990s. Jacque Vaughn was fired from his head coaching gig this year, too, leaving an opening there this offseason. Should Orlando choose not to keep interim head coach James Borrego in that spot beyond this year, Shaw is a guy that could be on their list of interviews.

How that actually works out, though, is anybody’s guess. A lot of Shaw’s success as an assistant came with teams that had more star power than Denver had this year and Orlando projects to have in the foreseeable future. The Magic is a team that needs a coach that can usher young talent toward stardom and then big team success. Shaw has already proven in Denver that overall success comes hard to his teams, and there are certainly coaches out there more renowned for their development of young players.

In short, all those teams that passed on Shaw the first time around probably haven’t had their minds changed in the two or three years since, but Orlando is a team that could take a risk and give Shaw a second chance. At the very least, it won’t be strange to see them considering him when their coaching search officially gets underway this summer.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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